In the community of Iwoye-Ilogbo in Ogun state, 429 primary students were crammed into two classrooms with tin roofs after the community ran out of funds to complete construction of their school.
Citizens had written to the government asking for additional funding to complete the project, but it was not until BudgIT, a network of citizen activists, inspected the progress of the construction project that the community learned that their request had been accepted.
Despite the Nigerian Federal budget being transparent down to project level, the citizens of Iwoye-Ilogo had never seen any information. “When [BudgIT] first came here and informed us of the [budget allocation available to build the] school, we were so eager to get it immediately […], but first we [were told that we] should write a letter to the government, which we did,” says Akeen Abbas, a local community leader in Iwoye-Ilogbo.
BudgIT’s ‘Tracka’ initiative used a single set of budget documents that are released by the Nigerian government, listing every government-funded project across the country. The Tracka team analysed, translated and simplified the budgets for everyday citizens and, armed with this information, went to the citizens of Iwoye-Ilogbo and presented its findings at community town hall meetings. The team engaged with local community leaders and sent letters to ministers representing Iwoye-Ilogbo to request the funding. BudgIT garnered national media attention for the project and by October 2014 bricklayers had arrived at the school, and the building was completed in February 2015.
Another key project demonstrating Tracka’s success began with a town hall meeting with the people of Ivbiodehen, informing the community of a water delivery project that they were entitled to but which had not been implemented. With the help of BudgIT, the community wrote to government officials requesting that the project be completed, and BudgIT publicised the abandoned project. This resulted in the delivery of a motorised borehole equipped with solar pumps to enable water extraction for the 10,000 citizens in the community. BudgIT’s approach was also successful in Usumutong, where a road project to improve transportation and control of floods and erosion was completed in December 2014.
The successes that BudgIT has achieved in local communities prove that, under the right circumstances, transparency is an enabler for information and sustained advocacy. It gives citizens the opportunity to act and to demand better conditions within their communities. What was clear from BudgIT’s work was that communities did not have a clear understanding of government budgets, originally thinking that they were personal favours granted by senators. BudgIT has used the media to highlight abandoned projects to apply pressure to government officials. Civil society organisations can act as intermediaries between citizens and public institutions; however, the inclusion of local leaders who represent their communities from the start to the end of the advocacy process is essential to deliver results.
To date, BudgIT has helped citizens secure the delivery of some key projects for communities across the country from the Federal Constituency Projects listed in the 2014 budget, accounting for 139 million Nigerian Naira (about $70,000), and another 1.23 billion Nigerian Naira (about $6.2 million) worth of projects are in the process of being completed. BudgIT has reached across six states and wants to expand its initiative to other states. The next challenge is gaining access to all government budget data in Nigeria and to public procurement data, which are not currently published. This would enable citizens to follow the money down to the local contractor level in their communities and to hold government accountable.
- Most citizens did not have a clear understanding of government finances. BudgIT uses an array of technology tools to simplify the budget for citizens, to allow them to understand what public services they are entitled to.
- Efforts should be made to make budget information available in local languages to ensure that all citizens are able to understand and use it.
- Local leaders who represent their community should be involved from the start to the end of the advocacy process in order to get results.